Q&A: New Construction Woes

Q Last year, I bought a brand new condo from a builder in Brooklyn. The disaster started from the first day I moved in. After I remodeled and thought that I could enjoy it, I found that there isn’t any insulation between the walls, firewall, and the electrical and plumbing were done incorrectly. We received a letter from our builder’s attorney asking us to let him in to make repairs. In his letter, he admits that his workers did not do the job properly. About 10 units of the 30 units allowed him to make repairs. We hired an electrician and an architect, who found about 35 code violations. We were trying to resolve this problem diplomatically but now he is not responding to us through either email or regular mail. We want to contact the attorney general’s investigation department, but we don’t want to hurt our case. If we call the Department of Building’s advocate department in Brooklyn, they may place code violations on the condo complex. If the builder disappears then how we will be able to remove all those violations from our units? I just don’t understand how the buildings department came to inspect the construction of this complex and did not find anything wrong. The builder does not assume responsibility for any of the problems reported. Instead he blames someone else although before this he was in a rush to make these repairs.

—Concerned Owner

A “The issues you raise regarding new construction and sponsors are ones I am frequently consulted about,” says Manhattan-based attorney C. Jaye Berger, who specializes in real estate, co-op, condo, construction law and litigation. “People close on units and then a short time later they find that there are problems. However, your description of the problem leaves many unanswered questions. Were any of these things noticed before the closing? They could have been incorporated in the Contract of Sale and addressed at the closing. I wonder why only 10 unit owners allowed the sponsor to do the repair work and why the others did not. It does not sound like it was difficult to repair. Offering plans have warranties in them and notice requirements, which must be met as a prerequisite for a later lawsuit. I cannot tell about any of that from your question.

“You ask why the Department of Buildings did not notice any problems. Again, we would have to know more. I cannot tell exactly what the problems are. Sometimes the project architect can self-certify certain things and the Department of Buildings would then not have to inspect those things. Also, the inspectors for the Department of Buildings are not there to inspect every aspect of the construction. Something like the presence or absence of insulation may not be an item for inspection. Electrical and plumbing would be, but you have not described what is wrong with those areas. The sponsor, the architect and the general contractor may all have roles in this situation.

“The first thing you and your neighbors need to do is consult with an attorney who knows this area of the law. Sit down and go over all the details of what is wrong. The attorney will need to review the Offering Plan. If there are statutes of limitations, you should know what they are and comply with whatever notice requirements there may be. You need to have an engineer examine the problems in the building and do a report, so you know exactly what is involved in repairing it. You will also need this whether you go to the Attorney General or start a lawsuit. You may even get estimates for what it would cost for you to do the work, in case you decide to have it done and then sue the sponsor.

“You mention that you have thought of complaining to the Attorney General’s Office, but do not want to “hurt” your case. Are you trying to get the problems fixed or are you trying to make out a civil case? If you truly believe there is a “safety” issue, you cannot continue to complain and not have it fixed. You and the others are putting your neighbors’ safety at risk. There could be a fire, as a result. If you all have the same kinds of problems, you may decide to seek legal counsel as a group, but do not delay. It sounds like there are some serious issues which need to be addressed quickly.”

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